By Patrick Meagher
By mid-April, some of Ontario’s vegetable and fruit growers were getting nervous about their foreign workers arriving on time. Others feared that if a worker gets infected by COVID-19, the farm will be shut down.
Things were so bad that some farmers were considering not planting at all, according to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson. “What we’re hearing some farms say is: It’s too risky. I think I’m just going to sit this one out.”
Other farmers are hoping for the best.
North Gower vegetable grower Mel Foster put in his request in November and received three of his 15 Jamaicans workers on April 7. They couldn’t work until after the 14-day quarantine, so he’s close to being one month behind. The federal government has pledged to farms $1,500 per foreign worker as farmers like Foster have to pay the $1,750 for their charter flight, then house them while they are in quarantine.
He’s worried because he sources his workers through the Canadian High Commission in Jamaica and it’s now closed due to COVID-19. “It’s all up in the air,” he said, adding that the new group of workers were scheduled to arrive in mid-June when he needs them working full-time at strawberry picking.
Shannon Miller and husband, Robert, operate a vegetable farm and roadside market at Lombardy, south of Smiths Falls, and each year hire seven Mexicans starting in late April. But not this year. They were told to expect a one- or two-week delay before they arrive. That could mean a one-month delay before work starts but the Millers are prepared. They are already working longer hours and plan B is their four children, ranging in age from 10 to 17, at home due to school cancellations, who will pick up the slack. They also “have a retired farmer who approached us about some tractor driving,” she said. “So, we’re happy to wait. We’re not up the creek. If they aren’t here by mid-June we’ll be in big trouble with strawberries.”
Chris Hall, at Hall’s Apple Market at Brockville, saw all of his six Jamaican workers arrive early last month. He’s two weeks behind but, “I’m not complaining,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
His biggest fear now is that one of the workers goes into town, gets infected and the farm gets shut down. The workers are here to send money home and decided on their own that they won’t leave the farm, he said. “We’re going to do all their shopping for them. This is a new situation. You do the best you can.”
There are about 25,000 foreign workers, mostly from Jamaica and Mexico, who work on Ontario farms each year. About half are expected to get to Ontario for planting and harvesting, said Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie.
EASTERN ONTARIO: Vegetable growers nervous as foreign workers arrive late, some aren’t here yet
By Patrick Meagher